Lesbian-sensitive clinic makes healthcare accessible

(Reuters Health) -- Sexual health clinics for lesbian women serve an important need -- they are not just ''politically correct,'' according to researchers in Glasgow, Scotland.

``A lesbian-sensitive clinic makes sexual healthcare more accessible and acceptable to this minority group,'' Dr. Susan V. Carr and colleagues point out in the British Journal of Family Planning for October.

They note that doctors and other healthcare professionals have a ``general lack of awareness'' of the specific healthcare needs of lesbians and bisexual women. Indeed, they may not even know which of their patients are lesbian or bisexual.

In 1995, when the researchers circulated a survey in Glasgow's lesbian community, the responses showed that lesbians believed they were a ``minority in terms of healthcare.'' More than 40% of survey respondents said that they were unable to discuss their sexual orientation or their sexual health needs with their primary care doctor. About 70% said that they would use a lesbian sexual health service if it existed.

As a result, Carr, and associates at several other clinics banded together to start the Glasgow Lesbian Health Service as an experiment. The clinic was and is the only family planning-based lesbian health service in the United Kingdom.

In the first 4 years of the clinic's existence, most patients found it ``accessible and comfortable,'' the investigators report in the journal. ``When asked if the consultation had helped them, 92% said 'yes' and 84% said they would come back to the clinic.''

Routine gynecologic exams were the services most often given at the clinic, Carr and her colleagues note. They point out that some lesbian women are unaware that they need Pap tests, or are reluctant to have them regularly.

The other most common services were assisted conception, psychological counseling, and treatment of sexually transmitted infections. The research team reports that 10% of clinic patients identified themselves as bisexual, and these patients may have needed contraception.

``Lesbians didn't feel they were recognized in their community, partly because the women were reluctant to disclose their sexuality or lifestyle,'' Carr told Reuters Health. ``They felt invisible. Now there is trust.''

Today, the center is funded by the National Health Service, she said. It cares for six to eight women each day at an annual cost of approximately 8,000 pounds sterling.

SOURCE: British Journal of Family Planning 1999;25:93-95.

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